La Bûche de Noël
Head into any pastry shop in France in December, and you’ll find a number of incarnations of the bûche de Noël, or Christmas yule log. As delicious as they may be, for many French, the real deal is the one they helped their mother make in the kitchen on the morning of December 25th. What makes the bûche such an astounding, year-after-year success in French homes is that pretty much anyone can make one, from basic to sophisticated, depending on the ages and skills of the bakers in the family . The bûche de Noël is the perfect opportunity for what we like to call “quality family time.”
Now, why in the world would anyone bite into a dessert that looks like a log?
The history of the bûche de Noël is a history class in and of itself. The tradition dates back to times immemorial, one of many pagan rites one would find throughout Europe to celebrate the winter solstice. A log of wood - often from a fruit tree to ensure a successful harvest in the year to come - would be brought home and placed in the hearth, which for centuries functioned as the epicenter of every family’s activity.
Depending on the region and its various beliefs, salt, wine, or holy water - among other ingredients - were sprinkled atop the log before lighting it on fire. Sprinkling wine, for example, was yet another way to guarantee the following year’s grape harvest would be bountiful.
Once lit on December 24th - the longest night of the year - the log had to burn for several days for good luck. That was just the start: ash from the log provided protection against lightning strikes, and coals were used throughout the year in various medicinal potions.
That’s all interesting, but at what point does the log turn into a cake?
Little by little, traditional hearths disappeared in homes, replaced by wood-burning stoves. With no center stage left for the Christmas log ritual, smaller logs were placed as a decorative reminder on tabletops, and it was only a matter of time before someone realized that it would be a lot nicer to eat the log rather than simply watching it. The bûche de Noël as a dessert was born.
This Christmas, if you fancy a slice of French tradition around the dinner table, it doesn’t get more authentic than a bûche. Our recommendation? Keep it simple, as in this recipe. One word of advice: sprinkling wine or salt on this one won’t get you anywhere, although we can’t vouch for the holy water.
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